[ExI] Consciouness and paracrap

Spencer Campbell lacertilian at gmail.com
Wed Feb 17 20:38:24 UTC 2010

Anna Taylor <femmechakra at yahoo.ca>:
> I know I'm simple minded but I don't understand why consciousness is such
> a philosophical debate.  I wonder why science sometimes complicates
> things.

Simplicity is a virtue. But, have you seen much scientific reasoning
going on here?

I haven't!

Anna Taylor <femmechakra at yahoo.ca>:
> Let's say the word conscious meant alive versus
> dead. Anything that is conscious is alive and awake.  Could everyone
> agree on that?

I have no problem with that definition, but then you also need to
define "alive". Lots of disagreement there. I think "awake" is
sufficiently unambiguous. You might run into the question of what
androids dream of, though.

Does it make sense to speak of sleeping rocks?

Being alive may be a prerequisite for being awake or asleep.

Anna Taylor <femmechakra at yahoo.ca>:
> My observation:
> Well my contacts work fine. My memory would recall, extract and process
> the information.  If the contacts are too weak and I can't see then
> yes one of my awareness factors would be limited but it would not stop
> me from being conscious or have consciousness.

This isn't actually what Stathis was talking about. He wants the
answer to this question:

If I were to replace your visual cortex with a device* wired to
exactly reproduce its normal inputs and outputs, would you still have
the subjective experience of seeing?

*There is an implication that the device in question is a digital
computer, which I take to mean something with registers and clock

Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com>:
> Several people have commented that we need a definition of
> consciousness to proceed, but I disagree. I think everyone knows what
> is meant by the word and so we can have a complete discussion without
> at any point defining it.

Dude, I barely know what I mean by the word when I use it in my own
head. Are you talking about access consciousness? Phenomenal
consciousness? Reflexive consciousness? All of the above?


The reason I haven't supplied a rigorous definition for consciousness,
as I have for intelligence, is because I can't articulate the meaning
of it for myself. This, to me, does not seem ancillary to the
discussion; it seems to be the very root of the discussion, namely the
question, "what is consciousness?".

Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com>:
> For those who say that consciousness does
> not really exist: consciousness is that thing you are referring to
> when you say that consciousness does not really exist.

That's fair. There isn't any question of what I'm talking about when I
refer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I can describe the FSM to you in great detail, however. I can't do the
same with consciousness, except perhaps to say that, if it exists, it
occasionally compels normally sane people to begin a sentence with

Stathis Papaioannou <stathisp at gmail.com>:
> The purpose of the above is to show that it is impossible (logically
> impossible, not just physically impossible) to make a brain part, and
> hence a whole brain, that behaves exactly like a biological brain but
> lacks consciousness. Either it isn't possible to make such an
> artificial component at all, or else it is possible to make such a
> component but it will necessarily also have consciousness. The
> alternative is to say that you're happy with the idea that you may be
> blind, deaf, unable to understand English etc. but neither you nor
> anyone else has noticed.
> Gordon Swobe's response is that this thought experiment is ridiculous
> and I should come up with another one that doesn't challenge the
> self-evident fact that digital computers cannot be conscious.

Gordon doesn't disagree with that proposition as-stated, even if he
sometimes claims that he does (for some reason). He's consistently
said that we should be able to engineer artificial consciousness, but
that to do so requires more than a clever piece of software in a
digital computer.

So, I suggest that you rephrase the experiment so that it explicitly
involves replacing neurons, cortices, or whole brains with
microprocessor-driven prosthetics. We know that he believes the
whole-brain version will be a zombie, but I haven't been able to
discern any clear conclusions from him on the other two.

He has said before that partial replacement only confuses the matter,
implying that it's a useless thought experiment. I do not see why he
would think that, though.

The only coherent answer of his I remember goes something like this: a
man has a damaged language center, and a surgeon replaces neurons with
artificial substitutes one by one. This works so poorly that the
surgeon must replace the entire brain before language function is
returned, at which point the man is a philosophical zombie.

But we always start with the assumption that computerized neurons do
not work poorly, indeed that they "depict" ordinary neurons perfectly
(using that depiction as a guide to manipulate their synthetic axons
and such), and I've never seen him explain why he considers this
assumption to be inherently false.

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list